Skip Navigation

Gelede Helmet Mask of a Gendarme

Arts of Africa

On View: Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
Masks can be used for a variety of purposes, but they are particularly useful for expressing disapproval and thus reinforcing communal values. These two masks performed instructional and critical messages about proper behavior and political discontent.

Male Yoruba dancers wear gelede masks at festivals honoring the women of the community. Gelede often serves as a showcase for artistic innovation, with its masks depicting motifs that are both entertaining and critical. This mask depicts a French gendarme, a colonial soldier, and was most likely performed as a critique of French personal and political behavior during the colonial period.

The mask depicting Elvis Presley belonged to the Nyau society (to which all Chewa men belong), an institution that governs the spiritual realm of death and the ancestors. The society's masks represent the spirits of the deceased, but they may also represent wild bush spirits or caricature personalities from the wider community. Outsiders—including Swahili slave traders, British officials, the Virgin Mary, and other iconic foreigners such as Elvis Presley—have been considered representative of antisocial traits and undesirable values.
MEDIUM Wood, metal, pigment
DATES early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 10 x 7 x 11 in. (25.4 x 17.8 x 27.9 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
CREDIT LINE Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply.

Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please contact (charges apply).

For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch.

For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright.

If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
CAPTION Yoruba. Gelede Helmet Mask of a Gendarme, early 20th century. Wood, metal, pigment, 10 x 7 x 11 in. (25.4 x 17.8 x 27.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Eugene and Harriet Becker, 1991.226.3. Creative Commons-BY
IMAGE overall, 1991.226.3_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.
Gelede Helmet Mask of a Gendarme